The Original Face

This original face is a well-known Zen riddle


This original face is a well-known Zen riddle where the pupil is asked, “When you were born, just when you were born, your face was covered with little wrinkles. When you were young, your skin was smooth. When you get old, your skin is covered with wrinkles again. Now, what is your true face, your original face, which you had before your parents were born?”  It’s quite easy to work out a philosophical answer to this. We can say well, of course, the true Self has no attributes. These wrinkles or absence of wrinkles, they’re all attributes. True Self is beyond attributes. The original face is the true Self.

The teacher never accepts those things. If the pupil persists in them, he hits him quite hard. Now, he has to go and find the original face. They can think,  “Well, I know it, I can quite easily say. These attributes, these passing things, reputation, money, poverty, illness, they’re not me. They’re passing attributes.”  In actual fact, when something happens, I find they may be masks but they’re actually me.

Hakuin was a great Zen master, very famous. A girl in a neighbouring village became pregnant. Her father was a very strict man. She thought she might escape punishment by saying that Hakuin was the father of the child. As she’d expected, the father said nothing.  When the child was born, he took it to the temple, threw it in front of the priest and said, “It seems that this is yours”. He shouted at him for a few minutes then went.  Hakuin said, “Is that so?” He lost all his reputation. He took the baby around when begging for milk. He who had been so great was now totally disgraced. One day, the true mother saw him with the child, and her mother’s heart was touched. She went to her father and said, “No, it wasn’t”. She told him who it had been. Her father also was touched, and they took back the child.

How many could say, when their reputation, a great reputation, has been totally destroyed, “This is not me. This is not my true face.” The method of presentation of the truth can vary according to the tradition in which it’s being expressed. We can say that the Indian tradition has been strong on analysis – for instance, the Sanskrit language. The first grammar, which still holds and is a masterpiece – our modern philologists still follow it and admire it – was about 400 BC.

The Greeks – no-one can say they were fools, but it never occurred to them to analyse their own language until in Alexandria about 200 AD, when they had to teach it to foreigners. Then the first Greek grammars were written. The Japanese never had grammar until the 16th century AD. They had no interest in analysis and perhaps no confidence in it, but they were great poets. There are five million poets in Japan. Many of them are women. The language has developed, not in the way of analysis, but in the way of creating poetry. We know from some of the historical incidents in the Middle Ages that the peasants in Japan in the 12th century, were well acquainted with poetry.

The presentation of the truth in China and Japan was not done so much in an analytical way. In fact, the Chinese failed to understand the subtleties of the Indian logic. It was presented much more in the form of vivid incidents on which the pupils were to meditate and finally live, until something awoke. Each of these methods has its strong points and its weak points. The strong point of the Indian analysis is you get precision. The weak point is that one’s liable to become a word-knower – a man who knows words and who feels the words, in a way, are enough: “I know them”.  It doesn’t have the actual experience. When we walk, we balance ourselves by reference to vertical things around us. If they construct a room in which the pillars are all slightly leaning, the average man falls over because he’s aligning himself with them. A man who’s been trained in balance has an inner sense of balance. He doesn’t rely on outer verticals to keep his balance. If a man who is deceived by the leaning verticals shuts his eyes, immediately he can feel the balance. That’s not with him all the time. With a trained man, it’s with him all the time. He can stand easily on one foot in a twisted environment.

In the same way, the first experiences of inner realization are often had in meditation, so to say, when the outer twistings are removed – but it has to be with him, finally, all the time.  An inner balance has to be developed, so to say. There must be direct experience. We can be exalted by perhaps a lecture or by some wonderful landscape or work of art, or perhaps by music; but when we go back, we’re still the same.

The Chinese use many vivid examples. Some of them to our ears are not particularly refined but they do make the point quite well. One of the things they say is that if the inner self, what we feel to be our inner self, is distorted and darkened, then no amount of elevating thoughts and ideas put on top of it will make much difference. The Chinese say, a stray dog has run up the steps of your garden and made a terrible mess on the top of the steps. You go out and you say, “Oh, how disgusting”. You get rose petals and you scatter them over the top and you go, “Oh, isn’t that beautiful now?”, but there’s still a terrible smell.  It’s said in the same way, unless we go deep into ourselves, then a surface of spiritual knowledge or practice won’t make much difference. We have to be willing to penetrate – and that will mean disturbance.

Some of the great Buddhist stupas in India were destroyed. The foundations still remain. Some of them are enormous, bigger than the area of this room. A flat brick foundation. It’s good thing to build your village on.  In one or two cases, it’s known that these villages on the brick are on top of the depths of a stupa. In those depths, there will be treasures but somehow, the villagers never get around to getting together and moving off and digging. “It’s too much of a business and the auntie is coming next Thursday. Then after that, we always go there, and one couldn’t change one’s house. It’s all unthinkable.” Things remain as they are.

This can happen in our lives while we’re fairly comfortably off. There has to be a willingness, and in fact, a compulsion in the end, to go much deeper. While the present mask is reasonably satisfactory, we are liable to stay there. Sooner or later with everybody – and later in life in some ways is favourable – there will be a desire to go deeper to find the original face. It’s called in one of the systems, the eighth consciousness. However, this is just another word.

The Chinese are sometimes asked about spiritual learning. The man came to a Zen master and said, “Should I study? Should I study the sutras and the holy texts?” The teacher looked at him and he could see this was a very arrogant man. He said (again, this to our ears doesn’t necessarily sound very attractive, but it has a deep truth in it), “When a man gets the infection called roundworms, the worms live in him and they eat the food. He eats more and more, but he doesn’t get healthier. The worms thrive inside, and finally, he dies. You have in you the worms of arrogance and pride. The more learning you take in, the more your arrogance will increase, but it won’t help you. You have to learn, for the sake of truth and realization, not to nourish arrogance.”

A Japanese Jesuit, who didn’t read Spanish, told me once he was in the West and he wanted to consult a point in the spiritual exercises of Loyola, the Spaniard who founded this movement, this order. Those spiritual exercises are written, it’s said, in the most wonderful Spanish. Well, he couldn’t read Spanish. He knew English and German. He went to a Spanish colleague, and he said, “I suppose you haven’t, by any chance, a translation into German of the spiritual exercises which I could read.” The Spaniard said, “Oh, certainly, yes. I always read them in German.” He said, “What? You? A Spaniard? This marvellous Spanish classic and you read it in a German translation?”

He said, “Yes. The fact is, I’ve had to study that Spanish text so much to pass examinations and to do research papers and to study the frequency of word occurrences and sentence lengths that now it’s all dead for me. When I read it in the German, the meaning jumps out of the page at me.” To learn but to keep our learning alive.  Learning can become a mask like all the other masks over the original face.

There was a story from Poland of the system called the Kabbalah, which has some secrets. A teacher of this visited a village where the rabbi was locally well-known as a spiritual figure. The Kabbalist stayed the night there and met this rabbi. They talked for a little bit, and the most famous sentence in the Old Testament is, “Hear, oh Israel, your God is one. You shall worship the Lord with all your heart and soul and strength.” Every pious Jew has to recite it twice every day.

The Kabbalist said to him, “You know, there is a secret in these words.” The rabbi said, “Oh?” The Kabbalist said, “It can never be spoken out loud, but I could whisper it to you so that, when you’re saying it, you would know the secret.” The rabbi said, “Oh yes.” The Kabbalist whispered into his ear the secret meaning of ‘the Lord is one’. The rabbi said to him, “Oh.” He said, “I never thought of anything like that when I recited.” The Kabbalist said, “Well, how do you recite it then?” He said, “Well, I throw myself into the presence of the Lord, into the light of the Lord and then I recite: “The Lord is one”, and the whole village shook. The Kabbalist whispered, “I can’t say it like that.”  This is the difference between learning and actual experience. This is an example from Europe. There are many. It’s a pure story on the Zen line.

There are many riddles in our own texts, and we must wake up and not read the holy texts simply nodding. In the New Testament, for instance, there are two different accounts but in one of them, Jesus is asked, “What is the first commandment?” He quoted the most famous text in the Old Testament, “Thou shalt worship God with all thy heart and soul and mind and strength.” He changed it. The original is, “With all thy heart and soul and strength.” Jesus changed it. It’s never been explained.

If you look in the commentaries, you will find no explanation. Most of them don’t even notice it. Why did He put in, ‘mind’? These are riddles in our own tradition. We don’t have to find riddles necessarily from the Zen tradition although they can help us. Then there are masks over the original face. Some of them come in masks of passion, masks of hatred, and then masks of pride, masks of learning, even masks of virtue. They tell us that we must try to take off these masks: ‘This is me.’ ‘I’m like that.’ ‘Some people are always looking for the opportunities, inching ahead. When they play a game, when they play chess, they’re boxing them – that’s me.’  ‘In business, he’s always looking for another chance.  He walks down the street, sees a half-open gate and he just looks inside, “Anything there? No? Fine”.  He’s always like that.’ Then there are others who, “No, no, no.” They don’t want to get excited over things. “Just wait. Just wait and see.” When they play chess, they play a defensive game. “Just sit back, let him attack. Yes, yes.” Then you counter. “That’s me, just the same. His boxing’s the same – just wait for the counter, block, block, block. Waits for the counter. That’s me.”

Those masks have to be taken off. There are people who are constantly talking. They say, “I must express myself.” Then a man comes and he’s going to commit suicide. Now say something. “Oh, oh, I don’t know what to say then. Oh, it’s terrible for you. Isn’t it? Oh, dear.” They talk and talk and talk, but they can’t really speak. He must be able to speak, and he must be able to keep silent for years together. Forcibly keeping silence, again, is no good.  Hakuin reports he met a man who talked continuously, and he said to him, “Brother, do you think perhaps you might try silence sometime?” The man said, “Oh, I did.” He said, “I kept a vow of silence for 20 years when I was young.” All that has been bottled up under that vow, now is coming out. The suppression by force is no good.

I’ll give two main methods. One is to see that our desires and passions and the hates and the arrogance, are based on illusions. We can agree with that theoretically, but when we agree in practice, we should become gradually more free of them, more independent.

The bullet train in Japan is called the Shinkansen. It’s very famous, even now. When it first came in, it was of course, a tremendous thing. The children in the distant villages had all heard of this famous, wonderful Shinkansen. The parents of the children in one village arranged an expedition to the capital and they took them to the nearest big station. They put them on the train, which was the Shinkansen but, by some mistake, the children weren’t told this.  The parents described how they were in this train. They were shooting through the countryside and then they saw another one. The kids all crowded to the windows and said, “Look, the Shinkansen. The Shinkansen.” One of the parents said, “You’re in the Shinkansen now. You don’t need to look at it, you’re in it.” That was an illusion, that they hadn’t realised it. There was something in themselves, which was as great as anything they could see.

A Zen student is expected to find in himself something which will set him free from the passionate grasping for things outside. The Upanishad says, and the Gita says, “He who has his light within, and his joy within, and his sport within.” Not just an isolation, but light within and joy within and sport within.

I heard a Japanese teacher give an address in Japan about the famous star, Alain Delon, the French actor, who was much appreciated. He said, “You see, the Japanese wife, she spends the afternoon perhaps looking at the television instead of doing the household chores, and she’s looking at Alain Delon. Then, about five o’clock, she thinks, “He’ll be back soon,” so she starts working and she puts on the apron and she works hard. She greets him in the apron still and she thinks he’ll think, “What a hard-working wife I’ve got.”  He comes in and she thinks, “Why aren’t you more like Alain Delon?”  But he’s been reading, in the train on the way back, a magazine article about Alain Delon. He looks at her and he thinks, “Why aren’t you more like the glamorous women that Alain Delon seems to come back to.”

He said both of them had brought something into their lives, which is an illusion – because there is no such actor, as you see on the screen. It’s a creation of make-up and lights and camera shots. He said that when you meet the film stars, they’re nothing like that at all. This is something quite illusory, but they’ve brought it into their lives, and they’ve given it reality.

Our fears can be illusory. One example that’s given from India is of a girl who has an appointment in a park with a close friend. A scholar happens to come there, and he sees her. He looks at her rather maliciously and said, “I suppose you don’t mind if I sit here to do my study?” She thinks, and then she says, “Oh, no, it’s all right now. There was a terrible dog, but he’s gone. Since the tiger came, the dog absolutely vanished, so it’s all right now.” The scholar goes.

The fear can be illusory and if the fears are examined and we go deeper and deeper, the damage is done to the masks, not to the original face. We have to be able to take off the masks and not think, “This is me.” This is one great method and in some Buddhist schools, this is the main method to examine the passions and to see their illusoriness and to discard them.

One method that’s given for people who are really sincere, who really want to do something, is to go before the dawn and sit on a hilltop and collect a bag of small stones. Then to sit on the hilltop, looking towards where the sun will rise and to sit in meditation. As the thoughts come up, they take a pebble and thinking, “Not wanted, not wanted” and throw it down the hill. Another thought comes up: “Not wanted”; another one: “Unreal. Not wanted, unreal.”

Well, these practices are given to us, and we can practise them or not as we like. If we have a crisis in life, when we actually want to do something or find something, then those practices can be done to free ourselves to some extent from the illusion, to get a little bit of freedom of independence, instead of feeling, “Oh, I must constantly do this. I’m like that. I always do that.” “Oh no, I never do this.”

The second one is to create a focus. We have the feeling, “Oh well, I would like to choose. Who can I choose now?” It’s not like that. The devotee doesn’t choose the god or the bodhisattva. The bodhisattva chooses the devotee, and the devotee must study widely or read with a certain width, not obsessively, different traditions and finally, one will jump out at him, and he will find, “This is where my devotion is to go.” He will be able to pour his devotion there.

They sit and they visualize, vividly, the classical image of the bodhisattva or the god. For a long time that image is supported, it’s created. I can think of Jesus as standing or sitting. Quite often, the pictures of preaching the Sermon on the Mount show Him standing, although the text distinctly says that Jesus sat and He always sat, as is traditional in the Far East.

For a long time, that picture is created, is supported, but (and this is explained both in the Indian text and in the Chinese and Japanese in almost the same words) the time comes when the image becomes radiant.  Then it has its own existence, then he knows the bodhisattva is there. This is not a creation of his own mind, and this brings concentration. He has to have application.

In some of the Zen schools, they give these riddles because they’re very good for catching the mind. “What is your original face before the parents were born?” Well, they produce various answers, but the teacher says, “No. No. No.”  “Well, then what?” In monastery slang, it’s called, ‘wringing out a cloth’, [until you feel] you’ve thought of all of the answers.

One Zen pupil I knew, his teacher had written a number of books, and he had a particular riddle: the sound of one hand.  “Two hands make a clap.  What sound does one hand make?”  He used to go through the teacher’s books looking for the answer and he found what he thought were several answers. He gave them to the teacher and the teacher never accepted them. It corresponds to something in ourselves, which we have to find. We have to find the original face in ourselves. We have to find the sound of one hand in ourselves, not an idea. The ideas are masks. There’s something deeper than an idea. We think, “Oh, well deeper than an idea,” then we get another idea. It’s deeper than the mask of the ideas.

They practise every day. It takes about eight minutes for the disturbances to die down. This is the experience of many teachers. Of course, it varies with individuals and so on.

Supposing I’ve read a book about the Himalayas or the Alps and then I collect some slides, and I think, “I’ll show my friends and tell them about what I’ve read.” That’s a good thing to do and a kindly thing to do and it’s expressive, so I do that. It goes very well. They enjoy them and they’re very interested with my explanations.  But then somebody has to drop in, “Have you been there?” “Look, I’m showing you these wonderful pictures, and don’t you think it gives a tremendous…” “Have you been there?” “Well, I’m trying to explain the spiritual atmosphere of these…” “Have you been there?” “Well, no. I haven’t actually been there.”  “Well, to me, somebody who talks sentimental nonsense about a place they’ve never been to is just an idiot,” and he walks out.

Well, the party finishes now and then I sit down to meditate. The teachers say it will take about eight minutes before that thought of, “Have you been there” will stop coming up in my mind. It takes an athlete about eight minutes to warm up for his exercises. We can say the first eight minutes will be something like calming the mind.  Sitting in a fixed posture the same every time will be a great advantage because the body then begins to adapt.  The nervous excitements begin to die down of themselves, if it’s done in the same posture at the same time, at the same place every day.  We can expect about eight minutes to pass before going deeper. We don’t want to discuss technique because technique is something that has to be learned on the actual occasions, but these general statements can be an encouragement.

The masks are thick, and the illustration is given like thick clouds where we can’t see the sun at all. The sun must be there, or we wouldn’t be able to see that the cloud existed, but we can’t see the sun at all. When the clouds begin to become thin in places, they become radiant because the sun strikes the edges of the cloud, but we can’t see the sun. Then we’re liable to think those radiant edges of the cloud, that is the sun, but it’s only a reflection of the sun. We are near the sun, the clouds are thinning, but we’re not seeing the sun itself. Well, this is an example they give.

When the passions become less and inquiry into truth becomes stronger, then the clouds begin to thin. Now, one example that’s given is this, the fingers are tightly interlaced, and we can’t see through them at all. When they become slightly released, then we can see a little bit and the light begins to come through, but the aim in meditation finally is to withdraw them all together and be able to see.

In the same way with meditation, for a time we see only clouds, different forms of the mask, but they are thinned by knowing that they are illusory and by concentrating on a point of devotion. Then when they become thin, they become radiant.  We begin to feel that the inner layers are more pure, as the buddhi is reflecting the light of god clearly.  Then this is realization, this is liberation, but it is still a very pure and fine mask. This too has to be taken off.

The purification of the memory – in meditation, first of all, a man knows, “I’m sitting here at a time and place, and I know my name, and I’ve got perhaps another 25 minutes to do and I’m meditating on this and that. I think today I’ll visualize this form.” Gradually, those associations will begin to drop away; the words will begin to drop away. Without words, he’ll begin to meditate. First, only for a short time, then the words will come up again.  Then later on when it goes deeper, when he meditates on the same thing every day, then place and time will drop away. Finally, the duality: ‘Myself here; and first of all, him and afterwards thou, you – there’, that will begin to drop away. Then the layers are becoming very thin, and then from that inspiration comes.

If we look at the lives of some really great geniuses, we can see this process. In the West we’re more impressed with scientists than artists because we feel, “Well, who’s to say that the thing is a masterpiece or not.  But science, that can be confirmed.”  In the East, they tend to think, “Well, scientists, they can make lucky guesses and they often do, and there’s no sign of inspiration at all, but nobody can fluke a masterpiece.” In the West, if we look at a life like Pasteur where it’s not one discovery that seems to come about by an extraordinary chance – well, not merely chance but by an extraordinary behaviour on the part of the scientist – but repeatedly five times, he made these great discoveries in different fields.

If we look at them, we find we can clearly see the inspiration in them. His assistant forgot and the virus, as we should now call it, was left in the laboratory for two weeks. They came back and it was nearly dead. The assistant would have thrown it away and Pasteur, for no logical reason at all, stopped him. He tried many things to try to revive it, but, “No, they’re dying.  Well, inoculate the chickens and just see.”  And the chickens, of course, it had no effect on them.  Later on, when they were injected with the full-strength, they survived. This was the principle for vaccination.

We can’t explain Pasteur’s behaviour on that occasion because it was completely against the logic of his own teaching as well. He was inspired. He did something. It wasn’t just a chance. He, himself did something which led to the discovery. If we look at his life, we should see that it’s a spiritual life. He was an artist when he was a boy, he didn’t like science and did no good at school, but then was inspired by a teacher. He went to Paris, became too homesick to stay there, and had to be brought back.  He nearly had a break-down, but went again, and then he began to write about will, duty, and concentration.  He lived in Paris, unusually then as now as a brahmacharya, as a celibate student. He worked very hard and then he began to make these discoveries.

He was an extraordinarily modest man, although he changed the face of medicine against great opposition.  He was sent to London as a delegate to the London Medical Congress, I think in about 1870. He was asked, as they were all asked to get there early, to be sure to be in their places early, because the Prince of Wales was going to come, who was very popular, and the audiences liked to cheer him.  Pasteur thought he was in time, but as he went in, the cheering started and he was lame, he’d had a stroke, but he hobbled to his place. Then the chairman, Sir James Patrick caught him by the arm and said, “Mr. Pasteur, don’t hide.” He said, “Oh, I’m late. The Prince of Wales has come. They’re cheering.” He said, “No, they’re not cheering the Prince of Wales, Mr. Pasteur, they’re cheering you.” That had never occurred to him.

We can see these spiritual qualities and this tremendous concentration, and this purity of life produced – not once, but five times – these totally new and unexpected insights.  Even today, a preventative against hepatitis is still based on Pasteur’s insight. It’s a limited sphere, but when it’s very pure and there’s great concentration, this area on which he concentrated became radiant and he became inspired.

From the spiritual point of view, we have to go deeper than that. Pasteur also had some religious inspirations. He was a very religious man, but he didn’t feel the impulse to go deeper than that. We are told we must go deeper and deeper and deeper until finally, the thoughts we have in meditation will go to what’s called ‘the eighth’. The eighth consists of the fundamental convictions of our life. These are often not conscious to us. Part of the job of a teacher is to bring them out to consciousness.

There’s a huge Chinese character in front of some interview rooms, which means the frontier gate. At the frontier gate – we would call it the customs – all your baggage is opened. They say, “Have you anything to declare?” You say, “Oh, this and this”. They say, “Well, we’ll have a look,” and everything is opened. In the same way, at that frontier gate, everything in the personality is opened. Things that we’re afraid to look at ourselves. Things we didn’t know we had or weren’t willing to acknowledge that we had, are opened.  Beyond those fundamental convictions, the saying is to thrust a sword into the eighth consciousness. Sometimes it says the eighth consciousness breaks open. The consciousness of being an individual, of having these limitations, these strong points, these memories, this name, these hopes – this is all broken open and then a light shines through.

We can say, “What’s the distinction between what one thinks ordinarily and what is in the eighth consciousness?”  An example was given by the president of the judo headquarters. He was a very learned man, who founded the modern system of Judo. In those days, the laundry is to be beaten out by soaking it in soap and then hitting it with the fists. The dirt is beaten out of the cloth. It’s not particularly good for the cloth, but it gets the dirt out. In the kitchen, he used to go sometimes and see them doing the laundry. He taught the maids to strike it with the edge of the hand, and to be able to exactly calculate how [hard].  He showed them how to use the body, not just the arms as they were doing – to use the whole body – and he made them do the laundry that way. They thought, “Well, he’s a marvellous, very famous great man. A bit eccentric, but we’ll do the laundry that way.” Then one evening, one of them was visiting a sick parent and she came back late. This was in the end of the last century, [where they wore] long sleeves. As she passed the end of an alley hurrying back late through Tokyo, a tough caught her sleeve, and without thinking at all, she broke his arm.

Dr. Kano said, “If she had been taught to do this and told about it, “Now, if you should get caught like that, you should try it like that,” she would have panicked, since it would not have been in the eighth consciousness.  But because she had done it every day – they do the laundry every day in Japan; they wouldn’t have dirty things about the house – every day, for years, without thinking it came to her.

Supposing I’m a music enthusiast and I hear that they’re going to play the reconstructed Schubert’s 10th symphony and I’m very keen on Schubert.  Then I have a chance to get a ticket. I have two old parents and it’s my turn to be looking after them for these three months. The doctor says, “Well, they’ve both got bad hearts. They shouldn’t be alone, ever. Might go off anytime.” I arrange for auntie to come. She says she’ll come to look after them for that evening. I get ready. Then there’s a telephone call from auntie to say that she’s fallen down and broken her wrist. She can’t come. I think, “Well, they’ll probably be all right, watching television. They’ll be alright, probably, if I go. On the other hand, I have promised to look after them and I really ought to do that.”

Whatever I do – if I go to the concert, I’m going to be thinking about them at home, perhaps fighting for breath one of them, and the other not knowing what to do – if I stay, then I’m going to have this resentment against them for keeping me there. Supposing I stay, and then mother says, “I think I feel sleepy. I think I’ll fall asleep; I’ll go to bed.” Trust mother to do that. Then father says, “Yes, I won’t watch the television, I don’t think. I’ll have a nap too.” Instead of being the sympathetic care nurse, you’re a sort of night watchman, when all the time, Schubert’s 10th is going on.

You think, “I’ll do something. I’ll wake them up. I’ll make them some hot milk and say, “At least have something.” “No, we don’t want that.” Then at the end of the evening, your mother wakes up about the time you’d have been back from the concert. She says, “You mean you stayed here? You’re a fusspot. That’s what you are. I’m going to tell everybody you’re a terrible fusser.” Father says, “You can’t leave us alone, that’s the trouble – spying on us.” You begin to think, “Doctor, where are these heart attacks you keep talking about?”

Now, in these situations, we can scatter flower petals over them. I can think, “What a good son I am. It’s marvellous really.”  But I’m stabbing myself to the heart, to the sound of solemn music, sacrificing myself – but it’s no good, there’s still this terrible stench. There’s something else in that situation. There’s something else, something quite different – not from outside, but in the actual situation itself. I can think, “Oh, well, I’m making good karma, marvellous karma. The Buddha said, ‘Looking after the old. There’s nothing higher than that.’”  No, that’s bringing in something from outside. That’s scattering flower petals. There’s something in the actual situation. The teacher said, “You must find this.” You say, “What is there? All I know is that I’ve completely uselessly sacrificed my chance to hear that wonderful concert for something that had no point at all.” He was saying: “Now – in that!” These are the riddles, which are set in Zen – not theoretical riddles, but something in our actual lives; to show the original face, to find the original face, not just in myself.

I’ve got a rusty pipe and it should be scraped. I think, “Oh, what a chore. Well, I have to do it sometime”. I put it off, put it off, but finally I’ll do it. I’m just thinking, “… another 10 minutes and I’m free.” “Now”, he said, “Now’s the time. Don’t think what you’ve been doing. Don’t think what you’re going to do. Look at this. You’re scraping with the metal wool, and you see the original face of the metal begin to shine through the rust. Look carefully.” You think, “Oh, well it’s just metal. That’s how it was.” No. Look carefully. Become aware of something.

Round the monasteries, they have moss growing, it’s cultivated. Here moss is a parasite and a pest, but there moss is cultivated. Moss stands for spiritual illumination, spiritual realization, because it can’t be forced, it can’t be hurried. The main thing with cultivating moss, is to remove the weeds. It’s not strong and it can lose out to the weeds. All the monks from the abbot down, are on their knees, every two or three days, weeding the moss. Now he will say, “Don’t just weed and think, ‘Oh no’. The original face of the moss is being purified.  See that, and as you weed, you’re weeding yourself, and the original face in you is beginning to shine.” You think, “Oh, those are just words.” No. When you see those monks who have practised, their weeding is different. The action of the hand is different. You can’t say exactly what it is, but there’s a difference. After you return, you find you’re calm. You’ve just been weeding, but you are calm. In those circumstances, in their presence.

The teacher again and again says, “Don’t search for it in exalting circumstances mainly. Search in these very small jobs of daily life, where you don’t have to do a lot of thinking, where normally your mind would be racing about some quarrel you’ve had or some ambition you’ve got. Try to find it in those things.” You say, “What good does such a man do in the world?” There are some who speak, who are very eloquent, and some who never speak.

One such man, he was a great saint, and he was asked, “Why don’t you speak? Why don’t you tell the people?” He answered in the words of Confucius, “Does heaven speak? The seasons follow each other. The rains come when they’re needed. Flowers bloom.  When autumn comes, the leaves turn red. In the winter, there’s snow, but underneath the snow, there’s thunder in the earth, there is a life in the earth, that comes up in the next spring. Does heaven speak?” There is a message for us, and many of us can find it, but heaven doesn’t speak in words. Well, in the same way that saint didn’t give addresses, but the people were changed by his presence.

Lastly, perhaps you’ve heard it before, but this is a famous Chinese story, which they think is historical. Poets and painters used to take the boat and drift down the river. A group of them were passing down the river and they were silent in admiration for the scenery and feeling their own inspiration, which would come out later in the paintings and the poems. A man, poorly dressed, was walking up the bank of the river, as this boat of silent people drifted slowly down. He looked at them and he took out a flute. He stood and he played like a great master. The boat slowly went past, then he put his flute away and went on.

If he hadn’t done that, they would have thought, “Oh, he’s perhaps the village clerk walking back home after the work.” They would never have known, because they were silent and reverend, he recognized this and then from this master musician, they heard this wonderful music. A teacher told us that these are the true forms of expression. We can say it was only 10 minutes, but this was embodied in a story which is one of the foundation stories of Chinese culture, written by one of the poets. The effects will go on. They will have spiritual vigour and life. The original face, then was expressing itself.

© Trevor Leggett

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